A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality

A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality is the latest title from Oni Press’s Limerence imprint, which tries to break down complex topics related to sexuality in 100 pages or less.

It opens with cartoon renditions of the artist/co-author Will Hernandez and co-author Molly Muldoon, who both identify themselves as asexual and set out the premise of the book. They serve as our on-page guides through the title as they explain how dating, sex, growing up, and other topics relate to asexuality. Molly warns the reader that they are not experts, but rather have lived experience and have done their research. 

Asexuality is simply about not feeling sexual attraction. This seems like a fine definition until aromanticism, or until the idea of wanting sex without romance, is brought up. Then we start to discuss the gray-a, or gray-area, term for asexuality and it begins to slide from there. I actually felt like I needed a guide to the guide, so thankfully the authors include links at the end.

For those worried about the placement of the book in a library setting, it does discuss potential content warnings and triggers within before you even meet ‘Molly’ and ‘Will’. For example, it is hard to discuss researching asexuality without also discussing online comments that may be found during this research. Some may be turned away by that content, so Hernandez and Muldoon smartly include that warning before the guide begins. 

I do think this title has a few faults due to trying to fit so much content into 71 pages. While they do a great job discussing most topics, because they jump from topic to topic rather quickly, it is hard to follow. That could be intentional, as I found myself re-reading sections multiple times to make sure I understood them before moving on. The art itself is rather plain, with not much on the page aside from the characters themselves or whatever they are talking about. Again, this could be intentional so as not to distract from the heavy subject matter. 

Finally, I, as a queer librarian, found it a little strange that the authors did not want to take a hard stance about asexuality’s placement in the LGBTQIA+ community. They bring up how in the past ‘A’ has been used to mean ally, but it was likely meant to mean asexual, agender, and aromantic. This is more of a personal fault I had with the title, as I would welcome the opportunity to clear up something asexual people contend with in the queer community.

That being said, A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality mostly offers what the title says it does. I think it would be welcome in any library wanting to add more resources on sexuality that are easily accessible to readers of any age, but that it should really be an additive to an already present collection.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality
By Will Hernandez, Molly Muldoon
Oni Press, 2022
ISBN: 9781620108598
Publisher Age Rating: 13+
Series ISBNs and Order

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation:  Asexual

Free Speech Handbook (World Citizen Handbook Series)

This book opens with the free speech portion of the first amendment from the US Constitution, followed by writer Ian Rosenberg, who is Jewish, explaining the events that led to this book. Several events are referenced within the first three pages, including the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, National School Walkout protests, 2017 Women’s March, and Mollie Steimer’s arrival at Ellis Island from Russia in 1913. Steimer’s foundational court battles lead into a key consideration: “Who is truly heard in the marketplace [of ideas]? If women, minorities, and the poor are not granted equal opportunity to enter the market, how can their voices participate in the competition for truth?” This question is immediately followed by talking-head quotes from law professors Charles Lawrence III, who is black, and Catharine A. MacKinnon, who is white.

The second chapter looks at Colin Kaepernick and the act of taking a knee (originally staying seated, but changed to kneeling as a sign of respect to fallen soldiers, an oft-overlooked nuance I was glad to see highlighted). After comparing reactions for and against that act of protest, the narrative shifts to the 1935 case of a child not participating in his classroom’s pledge of allegiance. There, as in Steimer’s case and many others used in this book, Rosenberg quotes and contextualizes judges’ rulings, their immediate fallout, and what they mean for Americans’ freedoms today. In each chapter, Rosenberg cites different scholars, justices, authors, and legal precedents, ensuring that his teacherly perspective is never unilateral or unsupported by facts and expertise. This is important when debunking Donald Trump and Clarence Thomas’s hypothetical rewriting of libel laws to go after the media, for example. Further issues include but are not limited to civil rights protests, propaganda on social media, Westboro Baptist Church’s protesting at funerals, and the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville. There’s a lot to chew on in every chapter!

All of this history and legal analysis needs a skilled cartoonist to weave its various threads into a cohesive whole, and artist Mike Cavallaro is mostly up to the task. There can be paragraphs of dry text on some pages, and Cavallaro makes sure to break up each block of text with a related image, often a picture of someone in portrait. Layouts will include images designed to guide readers across the page; other times, they use broad, straightforward grids. Some metaphorical imagery underlines Rosenberg’s points, but more often than not the art is rather literal, depicting flatly delivered quotes, exposition, talking heads, and book covers. The first amendment appears as an anthropomorphic #1 wearing a red cape, battling laws aimed at restricting it. I can’t help but think back to my previous review of What Unites Us, which used color and figurative imagery more frequently and effectively. That’s not a knock against the arguments presented in this book, only its presentation.

An afterword including quick summaries of first amendment concepts, as well as a glossary of legal terms and chapter-by-chapter bibliography, provide resources for learning and recall. As one might expect in a thorough review of free speech, some of the book’s examples involve swearing, from celebrities cursing at awards shows to George Carlin’s “seven words you can’t say on television” bit, Samantha Bee’s callout of Ivanka Trump over immigration policy in 2018, and “fuck the draft” printed on a jacket during the Vietnam War. A section about Larry Flynt’s legal battles over Hustler, a pornographic magazine, does not include porn. The issues discussed in this book are undeniably pertinent to all Americans, as well as historians and legal scholars. To make another comparison to What Unites Us, this is another powerful teaching tool from the World Citizen Comics line of publisher First Second that demonstrates over and over the impact of people standing up for their rights, even (especially!) if doing so is unpopular. The presentation is scholarly, as well it should be. Close reading and factual analysis should be considered signs of respect for “the most American of virtues.”

Free Speech Handbook
By Ian Rosenberg
Art by  Mike Cavallaro
First Second, 2021
ISBN: 9781250619754

Series ISBNs and Order

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Jewish
Character Representation: African-American, Russian, Mobility Impairment, Jehovah’s Witness, Jewish, Protestant ,

Morrison Hotel

Morrison HotelFrom the onset, I must admit to being a long-time, hardcore Doors fan. I became fascinated by Jim Morrison et al. during my early university days living in a dormitory, armed primarily with a portable record player and all of the Doors’ output. I remember adding the Doors fifth studio album, Morrison Hotel, to my collection when it was released. The album was a critical and commercial success upon its release and remains one of the band’s classic albums. I can hardly believe that fifty years have passed since then but reviewing this graphic novel magically and effortlessly dissolved the passage of years.

Jim Morrison died in 1971. The surviving members of The Doors, Robby Krieger and John Densmore, collaborated with author and columnist Leah Moore to transform their legendary album, Morrison Hotel, into an anthology with an impressive selection of illustrators to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Moore, along with the individual artists, did much more than illuminate each of the songs from the album and the history and musings of The Doors themselves. Each of the entries in the anthology dissect the historical period, especially for the United States: the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, the fight for equality for marginalized people, space travel and the moon landing, and the attitudes of the general public to the waning of the social revolution and music of the nineteen-sixties. This examination of several key events effectively resulted in a time-travel journey back to 1969, armed with the baggage of the era and a memorable and poetic soundtrack to carry the reader there and back.

Krieger and Densmore gave Moore and the illustrators access to their photographic archive and, along with the research into personal and historic events from 1969, the creators used their imaginations to develop the individual entries based on the lyrics of each song on the album while highlighting and telling a linear story of the band and the environment enveloping and shaping them during the recording of this album. The anthology is prefaced by a short introduction by Krieger about the genesis of the album photograph and cover. It establishes the mood for the illustrated journey that follows. In some instances, the lyrics are superimposed on “snapshot” illustrations evoking the tempo of the song, in others, the story is told through the lyrics themselves.

While I enjoyed all of the entries, there were several stories that I found outstanding. Colleen Doran’s “Ship of Fools” intersperses the historical renderings of the shipping boats with the then-contemporary images of the moon landing in a complex and emotive explosion of color and sensations. The following entry, “Land Ho!” by Ryan Kelly, uses gritty realism incorporating the fighting in Vietnam and post-traumatic stress disorder in an intentionally jarring manner, bringing the reader back from the sensuality of Doran’s illustrations. Several entries later, the reader vicariously experiences Jill Thompson’s light and summery rendition of “Indian Summer”. The final entry, “Outro” by Tony Parker and colorist Alladin Collar, brings the reader back to the prose introduction, recapping the discovery of the Morrison Hotel and the how and why of the infamous photograph. It also brings the reader full circle to the satisfying pleasure of listening to the album in its original format—no streaming! Chris Hunt did the art work for the cover of the graphic novel.

As Leah Moore stated in a Rolling Stone interview: “The Doors have so much theatre, and swagger and storytelling, they’re a totally natural fit for a comic. The lyrics they wrote, and the energy they played with—I think the songs don’t just lend themselves to the medium, they actually cry out to be comics.” I think she is 100% correct! Highly recommended for public library collections, especially for music lovers, historians, and aged hippies such as me! It would also be of value for high school collections studying recent American history.

Note: there is also a Limited Deluxe Edition (only 5,000 made) in a slipcase with three (3) 9×14.5 art prints with images from the book, a certificate of authenticity signed by writer Leah Moore, and an exclusive 50th Anniversary Edition 12” picture disc of the complete Morrison Hotel album. Libraries are unlikely to purchase that edition, but diehard Doors fans may want it for their personal collections.

Morrison Hotel 
By Leah Moore
Art by various
Z2 Comics, 2021
ISBN: 978-1940878362
Publisher Age Rating: Adult
Related media: Music album to comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: British-American

Guerilla Green

Guerilla Green

Guerilla Green opens with author and narrator Ophélie Damblé on the Paris Metro to Boulogne-Billancourt, surrounded by people on their phones who are slowly driving her crazy. She snaps, begins handing out seeds (and green advice) to those around her and makes a dramatic exit by quoting Green Guerilla icon Ron Finley, “Let’s plant some @#*%!” Just like that, you are in the headspace this book will occupy. It swings between history lessons on green guerillas around the world, indignation at the state of the world we are in today and actions you can take today to start changing your city. It is a call to action book that uses the graphic novel format to reach out to a broader audience and soften the grim reality it’s trying to bring attention to.

Damblé’s entry into the world of guerilla gardening started when she was approaching age 30 and, having spent a decade in public relations, decided it was time for a life change. She saw friends her age fleeing from the city to the countryside, but she wanted to stay and put in the work to make Paris more beautiful and livable. She shares her research on the notion of rebellious gardening beginning in the 17th century through to today with examples of people and groups around the world continuing this work. Over the next several chapters we get lessons on topics including how to clean up your city, civil disobedience for the greater good, how and where to garden, saving biodiversity and her hopes for the future.

While she does admit that some of these acts and works might seem pretty big, Damblé makes the argument that every movement and change has to start somewhere and it can start with one person. This book is her pitch for each of us to become that one person. Any one of us can start to make a positive change in our city and help the planet by doing a little digging. She’s giving you an outline on how to get started and at the end of the book there is even a list of both French and English resources to keep reading and a list of websites to check out to stay motivated. There are interstitial breaks after each chapter titled “Ophélie explains it all” with a real life photo of Ophélie and friends from that chapter. Ophélie then elaborates on some of the facts from that chapter and any of the details she feels could use more context. These were helpful sections and I could appreciate that they were set aside to give them more serious weight.

The art by Cookie Kalkair feels reminiscent of Noelle Stevenson’s work on Nimona and Lumberjanes (which was also published by BOOM! Box) and the art is the saving grace of this graphic novel. It’s lighthearted, whimsical, and helps with the rather uneven pacing of the storytelling. The earnestness of the message was undercut at times with some curmudgeonly jabs at younger readers and an unspecified rival’s book, as well as some ill-advised references to historic figures like Rosa Parks. The pacing also varies wildly throughout the book and reading feels stilted as such. While there are some pie-in-the-sky ambitions in Guerilla Green, the hope it exudes, that we can all make a difference, is undeniable. The militaristic mindset, some of the history lessons, and the nature of the topic makes this book better suited to high school teens and older readers. Younger readers may have trouble with context for some of the biggest planetary issues addressed. Big city dwellers will also have more familiarity with some of issues addressed, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be enjoyed by those with the luxury of a backyard.

Guerilla Green
By Ophélie Damblé
Art by Cookie Kalkair
BOOM! Box, 2021
ISBN: 978-1684156634

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: French

Re: Constitutions: Connecting Citizens with the Rules of the Game

Re: Constitutions: Connecting Citizens with the Rules of the Game, the latest title from First Second’s World Citizen Comics series, tackles constitutional law through the medium of comics. Bringing an international perspective to her subject matter, political adviser Beka Feathers explores the impact of constitutional documents on everyday life. She also delivers a political call to action, emphasizing the role of civic engagement in defending our constitutional rights. The content in this youth-friendly title is compelling, but its storytelling choices may fail to appeal to a broad audience.

Re: Constitutions follows Marcus, a teenager struggling to write a citizenship essay for his summer internship. As Marcus and his jokey kid sister Aaliyah attend social gatherings and complete volunteer projects around town, neighbors help Marcus with his assignment, telling personal stories that illustrate how our founding documents set the “rules of the game” for our public lives.

As a civics lesson, Re: Constitutions is an impressive read. This book draws on examples as diverse as Kosovo, Argentina, and the United States to demonstrate how constitutions affect the lives of citizens. For an Albanian speaker in Kosovo, a fair constitution guarantees the right to speak a native language; for a woman in Rwanda, the right to female representation in government; and for Marcus’s own grandparents in the United States, the right to buy a house in a formerly segregated neighborhood. In each case, the book is upfront about constitutional failures, lingering on moments when founding documents missed the mark or were betrayed by politicians. Readers learn that it’s up to ordinary citizens to take action and uphold our shared values.

Re: Constitutions is intelligent and incisive, but I worry it’s a book without a clearly defined readership. The teenage protagonists, paired with Kasia Babis’s crisp, colorful art, feel aimed at a middle- or high-school audience. However, this book isn’t an obvious choice for a civics classroom—it’s just too unstructured, more longform essay than textbook. The one exception is the “Guide to Drafting Your Own Constitution” included in the appendix, which gets into the nuts and bolts of constitutional documents and would be an engaging exercise for the classroom.

Though I can’t see this book as a class assignment, I’d be equally surprised if a politically-minded teenager picked it up for leisure reading. In short, Re: Constitutions reads like edutainment. Its artificial framing device and sweetly earnest cast of characters are well-executed but unmemorable, a formula likely to turn off readers. I think this book would have been better served if it had leaned into its own wonkiness and adopted the “explainer” format popularized by Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, where a stand-in for the author walks readers through a complex topic.

Consider purchasing Re: Constitutions for larger young adult or school library collections, particularly those that emphasize nonfiction comics or civics titles. There’s a chance this book might have relevance for the right reader—perhaps a civics student completing their own citizenship assignment. However, I don’t see this as an essential title for the average public or school library.

Re: Constitutions: Connecting Citizens with the Rules of the Game
By Beka Feathers
Art by Kasia Babis
First Second, 2021
ISBN: 9781250235435

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Character Representation: African-American, Black

Be Gay, Do Comics

The Nib compiles approximately fifty webcomics (many of which were previously published on thenib.com) from forty creators on a wide variety of LGBTQ+-related topics into this Kickstarter-backed anthology. The comics run the gamut from one-page funnies to ten-plus-page detailed glimpses into queer history. Associate Editor Matt Lubchansky’s introduction explains the origin of the title’s source, the phrase “Be Gay, Do Crime.” Lubchansky also discusses the significance of comics as a means to express queer identity in a singularly accessible manner.

Some of the most interesting comics in the anthology serve to educate readers about various aspects of the queer experience. These include histories, cultural and national disparities in treatments of queer people, and procedures like embryo adoption and securing birth control as an asexual person. One historical highlight is The Life of Gad Beck, written by Dorian Alexander, which details gay Jewish Beck’s resistance under Nazi Germany. Levi Hastings’ gorgeous illustrations are rendered in black, white, and pale blue, with thick outlines (there is no art tool information in the book, but it looks like Hastings used oil pastels). Another particularly informative contribution is Sam Wallman’s A Covert Gaze at Conservative Gays, an illuminating piece about historical and contemporary right-wing activism among queer people. At first glance, Wallman’s panelless comic closely resembles a infographic by a Mad Magazine artist; Al Jaffee comes to mind. But this black, white, and pink comic strikes a perfect balance between discussing “gay supervillains” like Milo Yiannopolous and more sympathetic conservatives like gun advocates in the wake of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Kazimir Lee’s What’s It Like to Raise Kids in Malaysia When You’re LGBT? is another interesting piece which details political perspectives and individual experiences of queer people in Malaysia. The standout art is reminiscent of a mid-20th century picture book; the full-color illustrations are predominantly in earthy reds, pinks, yellows, and browns, and there are minimal outlines in the characters’ block-like head and body shapes.

The anthology balances its drier informational pieces with funny one-page strips and relatable memoirs. A memoir highlight is Dancing with Pride by Maia Kobabe (Gender Queer) and is about eir experience in a folk dancing class where dancers are assigned different roles based on their perceived genders. The simple illustrations appear to be in pencil and watercolor, and feature a page where the dancers are lined up in order so their shirts make a rainbow, a very subtle and sweet nod to queerness in non-queer spaces. Another moving piece is written by Sarah Mirk and details activist Pidgeon Pagonis’s experience as an intersex child. The piece, Gender Isn’t Binary and Neither Is Anatomy, is illustrated by Archie Bongiovanni (A Quick & Easy Guide to Pronouns, Grease Bats).  A couple laugh-out-loud funny highlights include Joey Alison Sayers’s The Final Reveal, in which the extremes of gender reveal parties are spoofed, and Shelby Criswell’s Astrological Signs as Classic Queer Haircuts

As is always the case when I read comic anthologies, there were pieces that didn’t resonate as well with me as those I’ve named above. Rather than specify them, I will argue that it is because this book features something for every reader. If a piece didn’t resonate with me, it is sure to resonate with someone else. The queer representation is so varied, with gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, nonbinary, intersex, and ace representation, and with countless intersectional queer identities, that I am confident every queer reader will find something to relate to in this book. Due to its array of art styles and queer representations, I would particularly recommend Be Gay, Do Comics for fans of Iron Circus’s anthologies, like FTL, Y’all, Smut Peddler, and The Sleep of Reason.

Be Gay, Do Comics
Edited by Matt Bors
ISBN: 9781684057771
IDW, 2020

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Traits: Asexual, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Queer Gender Nonconforming, Genderqueer, Intersex, Nonbinary, Trans
Creator Highlights: Black, Filipino-American, Puerto Rican Asexual, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Queer Gender Nonconforming, Genderqueer, Nonbinary, Trans

Unrig: How to Fix Our Broken Democracy

Reading Unrig: How to Fix Our Broken Democracy felt like an important act. After finishing another contentious election season where it was clear many politicians wanted to limit how many people could vote, finding any source of hope with fresh new ideas is important. While Unrig lays out in frank, informative detail all the ways our democracy is ailing, remedying these problems seems challenging at best.

Published by First Second as the first of a new graphic nonfiction series called World Citizen Comics, Unrig is written by government accountability expert Daniel Newman. Newman is depicted in cartoon form throughout the book as the voice that guides us through various problems with our democracy and some of the solutions. George O’Connor is the artist and he draws Newman consistently throughout the book. His lines are simple and clean and it is easy to follow what is happening. When he draws a real person, it is usually a good likeness. Choosing to write this book as a comic indicates that the authors hope to connect a wider, possibly younger audience to many reform ideas from around the country.

The first chapter starts in a promising way by laying out how difficult it is for regular people to run for office because of how expensive and time consuming it is. It focuses on the Seattle area and an innovative program involving democracy vouchers. Each citizen receives vouchers that they can donate to a political candidate whether they have a lot of money or not and the vouchers translate into real money for candidates. This allows people who don’t usually get to participate in democracy to have their voices and interests heard. Younger citizen activists who may have student loan debt may be viable candidates if they can get enough vouchers. It’s an inspiring idea and a good way to start the book.

Later chapters focus on lobbying, gerrymandering, something Newman calls the “wealth hoarders,” and how our Democracy does and doesn’t work. Possible solutions that get discussed are ranked choice voting, early voting, same day registration and on-ad disclosure statements. All of the solutions discussed are good ideas and worth implementing, but the problems he discusses are so enormous, that these solutions seem like grains of sand in a sandstorm. The artist consistently depicts the big moneyed interests as a dark, tentacled creature that is subsuming our whole system. It’s clear from the final chapter that they want to spur more citizen action as they give several ways that people can make positive changes, including visiting their website, unrigbook.com. My worry is that they paint so bleak a picture that people may stop reading or give up before they get to the end. Devoting more time to individuals who are successfully making changes might provide more inspiration. 

This book and series is a welcome addition to the growing graphic nonfiction scene. It could easily go in a teen or adult nonfiction section in any library, or a nonfiction comics section if you have one. There is an extensive well researched notes section in the back as well with a lot of ideas for next steps. I’m hopeful that future volumes provide a little more inspiration and hope along with outlining our problems.

Unrig: How to Fix Our Broken Democracy
By Daniel Newman
Art by George O’Connor
ISBN: 9781250295309
First Second, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: (Teen 13+)
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Related to…: Book to Comic

Paying the Land

“What do you mean by paying the land, Fredrick?”
“You give it something, he says. ‘A bullet, perhaps, water, tobacco, or tea. It’s like visiting someone. You bring the land a gift’” (p. 50).

As much as I have appreciated Joe Sacco’s graphic journalism in the past, I opened Paying the Land in trepidation that the western view would once again supplant the reality of the Canadian Northwest Territories and its inhabitants. I gave a heavy sigh of relief when I realized that the first and last chapters completed a circle, an important element in both Indigenous communities and in the world of traditional storytelling. The circle made me feel that I was safe with the maestro. “You find yourself in the circle” introduces the reader to the land, the people, and the traditional lifestyle of the Dene. “The circle is closed” leaves the reader in the contemporary world of the land and people but now the lifestyle is more conflict than tradition. 

Between these two chapters Sacco, through the words of the people of the communities visited in his research, tells the complex and ongoing story of how the Dene became so conflicted and affected by colonialism, sovereignty, cultural genocide, commodification, appropriation, and contemporary resource extraction practices. Sacco successfully manages his massive undertaking of illustrating the intricacies of the area, from the first arrival of European settlers, the fur trade, and specifically the Canadian government’s tactics of treating the Indigenous people through the years while sustaining his initial focus on climate change.

The land has always been central to the Dene but the resource extraction of gas, oil, and diamonds, while creating jobs, also created havoc with the building of pipelines, roads, and toxic waste, which scarred the landscape and damaged its inhabitants with the escalating issues of debt, drugs, and alcohol. For non-residents to understand the situation more fully, Sacco delved into the background of colonialism with the ongoing residue of the destructive residential school system and the progression from living on the land to becoming wage earners living in settlements. “Dear Reader,” Sacco clarifies, in tiny narration rectangles at the onset of the chapter entitled “A savage who can read,” “something has been circling above these stories, in fact, haunting this entire project. Perhaps I should have mentioned it before…” (p. 121).

While Canadians may be more aware of this recent history, readers from elsewhere need to address the disastrous effects of residential schools and the several generations of children removed by the Canadian government to attend institutions with the express purpose of “removing the Indian from the child.” When these children finally return to the north and their families from these schools, their self-worth, their language, and their culture have been, for the most part, eradicated. What remains is intergenerational trauma with the severing of connections to community, family, and the land. Sacco also clarifies the historic and contemporary background of treaty negotiations and land claims that add to the complexity of the situation of the Indigenous north. He also engages the reader with the intricacy and balance of a multiplicity of viewpoints within the various Indigenous communities. Some of the residents are inclined to encourage resource extraction as beneficial for their communities for wide-ranging reasons while others oppose it because they favor the return to a more traditional land-based lifestyle. Still others are inclined to marry the two polar perspectives as the most positive outcome for the people, balancing the two by maintaining many of the elements of the traditional lifestyle while also engaging in the mining and construction in their local area. Self-determination is a positive force and one that Sacco respects and offers without judgement. 

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission also figures in the balanced journaling of the narrative. Sacco credits the opportunities to relate and record the stories the Indigenous population shared with the Commission as a valuable aid in his own research. All is not gloom in the north, and Sacco demonstrates this continuous resilience through various community celebrations and numerous bursts of humour. He displays his fascination with traditional games and contests and, by enlightening his readership with his personal commentary, he continually educates non Indigenous readers without being condescending.

Sacco visited the sprawling Mackenzie River Valley in March 2015 for research material for a magazine article and returned in March 2016 when he realized the larger scope of the story. He interviewed approximately 35 residents of Tulita, Norman Wells, Sambaa K’e (Trout Lake), Fort Simpson, Fort Liard and Yellowknife. Among those featured are former Paul Andrew, Premier Stephen Kakfwi and the late Father Rene Fumoleau, among others. A big part of the four-year process in creating the book was taking the time to ensure that his quotes were reviewed and approved by the informants before the publication of the book. This was my second pleasant surprise in reading the book. 

Father Rene Fumoleau, who is featured in the book, was a good friend of mine. We had shared many stories and glasses of wine when he visited Edmonton and had several surreal experiences when traveling together to storytelling festivals and library-related conferences. He was also told his stories as part of a storytelling project that I was involved in.[1] Reading the brief chapter featuring my old friend relaxed me even more as I could hear him through the pages. I have also visited several of the locations depicted in Paying the Land and felt that Sacco was giving the land and the people quality service and voice.

Sacco’s realistic black and white illustrations, heavily hatched with lines, effectively and economically complement the journalism and storytelling. His landscapes are breathtaking and evocative, bringing an immediate awareness of the vastness of the area and the modifications that have occurred over time. He establishes a robust sense of place of the land and of the small communities and larger cities. His depictions of the characters, including himself, are likewise superb. The faces are promptly distinguishable, the body language telling, and the dogs and machinery equally realistically rendered. The panels are organic, following the flow of the storytelling. Many of the backgrounds are simple and uncomplicated but those that are not are filled with meticulous details that add immense depth to the vignettes. Sacco pays homage to the land and the people by portraying them and their environment as accurately as possible. The only character who is portrayed in a slightly cartoony manner is Sacco himself. Readers familiar with his work, however, would easily recognize his caricature. This is an outstanding documentary in print.

This book is highly recommended for high school students and adult readers in and outside of Canada. There is much to digest and reread here.

[1] For more information on the recording, see https://www.storytellers-conteurs.ca/en/featured-storytellers/Rene-Fumoleau.html


Paying the Land
By Joe Sacco
ISBN: 9781627799034
Metropolitan, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Adult
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Traits: Canadian Dene
Related to…: Book to Comic

March, Book Three

If I could buy the March trilogy for every human on this planet over age 13, I would. And while my dream may never play itself out fully, I’ve inched closer to this goal. I palmed the books into the hands of a close friend who loves politics much more than comic books. I insisted that any reader who is studying the tense race relations of the American South in To Kill A Mockingbird could use March to extend and add context to their inquiries. And when I ran into a high school history teacher while I was grocery shopping, I encouraged him to assign it to his American Studies classes.

The March series offers a view into the personal life of Georgia Congressman John Lewis and of the civil rights movement from lunch counter sit-ins in the late 1950s to the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. President Obama’s 2009 inauguration is used as a framing device throughout the series to add some optimism to what is otherwise a mostly difficult story and to remind us of the work we have left to do.

What started as some localized protests in Book 1 has grown to a national and international movement in Book 3, as Lewis grows from college student to chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. There are subtle moments in this story that reflect this change, such as Lewis’s return to the bus station in Jackson, Mississippi, a central location of Book 2, to see that the restroom signs are no longer marked “white” and “colored.”

However, the politics become more sinister. Externally, President Lyndon Johnson is making a calculated effort to save Democratic votes in the south. Internally, there are layers of disagreement as the movement grows to accommodate more individuals from more racial backgrounds and different views on nonviolence.

This volume is also more tragic than the first two. We see the assassinations of leaders like JFK and Malcolm X, and we also bear witness to the tragic deaths of relatively unknown African-American teens, like Virgil Lamar, Johnny Robinson, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair. We see the murders of civil rights activists—both black and white—who traveled to the south for protests, like Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James, Chaney, and Viola Liuzzo. Due to the number of lives lost, not to mention the numerous incidents of police violence, librarians would be wise to inform younger readers in advance about its deeply upsetting content.

Nate Powell uses black ink and greytone watercolors to make what would otherwise be faded historical memory come back to life. The artwork is mostly grim, and Powell occasionally emphasizes the grimness by fraying the borders of panel and speech bubbles to show agitation. Powell also borrows some motifs from superhero comics in police brutality scenes by drawing high-motion panels along with onomatopoeic WHAPs of fists and ZZZZZZTTTs of police batons.

At other times, Powell uses his tools to pause poetically and capture a character against a completely black background with minimalistic white text. In this way, he is able to capture brief yet compelling portraits of individuals like Fannie Lou Hamer, whose story might be absent from most history textbooks.

March is an essential supplement to, but not a replacement for, a traditional study of the civil rights movement in a high school or upper middle school history or government class. There is so much information here that it can be disorienting or overwhelming to the reader who isn’t already familiar with the basics about Martin Luther King, Lyndon Johnson, and nonviolent protest philosophy. Then there are details that might escape some readers, such as Nelson Rockefeller’s reception at the ‘64 Republican National Convention, the rifts between the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the complex relationship between federal laws and on-the-ground practice. And like any good book, I left it asking more questions than I had before I started.

I urge you to join my mission to get this book into more hands of more readers. If you are in a library that doesn’t have the series, order it now. If you have the series, move it to the display. If your boss wonders why you are investing your budget in graphic novels, buy him or her a personal copy of the series and then buy him or her a cup of coffee and a slice of banana bread and offer to sit down and talk. Too many people died in order for us to be able to tell this story, and the least we can do is tell it to others.

March, Book Three
by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Art by Nate Powell
ISBN: 9781603094023
Top Shelf Productions, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: (12+)

March: Book One

March Book One

After years of schoolwork, countless documentaries, and numerous film adaptations, the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s seems so familiar to us that we may feel there is no new way to approach it. I’m happy to say that March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell gives the reader a fresh perspective on this oft-discussed historical period, digging deep into Lewis’ experiences as a young protester, and adding a distinct element through the use of the comics medium.

The book frames Lewis’ story by introducing us to him in 2009 as he interacts with his constituents as a U.S. Representative. As he tells his story to two young African-American boys, the narrative switches between 2009 and the 1950s and 1960s of Lewis’ Alabama youth. Lewis grew up on a farm; he was a particularly sensitive child who raised chickens and dreamed of becoming a preacher. His caring nature made him invested in the well-being of his chickens and his righteousness at their mistreatment would later make him a good advocate for the non-violent protest movement of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lewis became involved with the movement when he went to college and trained to conduct “sit-ins” at segregated lunch counters in the South. The comic expertly depicts how a coordinated, organized movement that carefully trained its young protesters was able to affect change across the region. Though Lewis does get to meet Dr. King in the course of the story, its focus is on Lewis and the other protesters as they quietly protest at lunch counters and subsequently deal with the consequences of their actions. It is an inspiring story.

Lewis understands the power of storytelling through comics, noting the influence that a Dr. King comic had on young men like him in the 1960s. He’s found the right artist to help him tell his tale in Nate Powell. Powell effectively uses shadows and shading in his black-and-white drawings to set the tone of the book. Often, artists working on black-and-white stories with many characters have trouble differentiating their looks, but Powell’s attention to detail in clothing, height, and facial features allows the reader to easily follow the action, even when the story jumps in time. There is no attempt at photo-realism here; Powell’s drawings are reasonably realistic while retaining a cartoon-like style. His use of perspective and variety in his panels keeps the reader engaged.

Overall, March is an excellent story told by an experienced comics artist at the top of his craft, and I’m looking forward to subsequent volumes. I hope that this book falls into the hands of its intended audience of middle school and high school students as they begin to learn about the Civil Rights Movement. I could see it being featured on many school reading lists in the years to come.

March: Book One
by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin
Art by Nate Powell
ISBN: 9781603093002
Top Shelf, 2013
Publisher Age Rating: (13+)